Making a short film is a rite of passage for many new filmmakers. If you have never made a short film, now is the time. Not only are there a gazillion film festivals that offer a short movie program, but with websites like YouTube, you can reach a global audience. Plus, making a short film is a great way to learn filmmaking.
In the old days, making a short film meant a studio would project your work in theaters before the feature presentation. But that trend ended. Short films were replaced by trailers and advertisements.
There wasn’t much of a market for short films in the decades that followed. It was almost impossible to make money with a short film. As a result, finding investors to back a short was super challenging.
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How To Make A Short Film
While I can’t say that the economics of short movie making has improved, film festivals and internet-based video platforms provide fantastic ways to see your work. But regardless, you’re a filmmaker. You have short film ideas. And making a short film is a great training ground for getting your feature made, seen, and sold.
Many people in Hollywood bounce around for years pretending to do work when all they are doing is posing. Many of these people call themselves producers, yet they have no screen credits and have frankly failed to do anything! Don’t do that. If you haven’t yet made a short, I suggest getting started!
For your first few movies, don’t spend time worrying about lighting or special effects. Just learn how to utilize your limited resources and make something cool out of nothing. Here is a quick video outlining my tips for creating a short film.
Tactic 1: Use Resources You Have
Technology has come a long way. You can now buy a camera that produces cinematic results for a few hundred dollars. And if you can’t afford a new camera, use any camera you can get your hands on. And yes, this includes camera phones. If you cannot yet afford your equipment, find someone who already has the gear and makes friends.
I suggest you focus on a story you can tell in three minutes or less. When I was teaching a filmmaking course, I realized many first-time filmmakers created stories that focused on some guy staring into a mirror and talking or some girl shaving her head while reminiscing about apples and spiders. These films sucked, but they were good practice.
Your initial movies will probably suck too. And even if you think it is excellent, watching it five years from now, you’ll think it sucks. So don’t worry about any of it. Permit yourself to suck. Practice your craft. And if you’re wondering what a sucky short film looks like, here is an example:
Tactic 2: Make Short Films That Suck
Yeah. It is MY second short film, and I don’t know what I was thinking. But it was good practice. And despite the fact it was a stupid art piece, based on a terrible short film idea that presented nothing new to the world, I learned a lot. And it simply sucks.
I included this short film example to encourage you. The odds are good that you can do better than this poo. I challenge you to get started and do something better! Prove it.
Just remember, the more you practice, the better you get. And if you’re making a short film but find yourself low on short movie ideas, the next best thing is to create a music video, which is essentially a short movie.
Tactic 3: Avoid Making Dramatic Films
I stopped by the Haig Manoogian Screenings of the best short films a while back. These films represented the best of NYU film school and were presented by former NYU alumni Eli Roth. Shot in film (not HDSLR video). All of the movies looked expensive and awesome. But most were dramatic.
Many student filmmakers create serious and dramatic films. So if you think you have something dramatic, you HAVE to share, by all means, make your movie! Case in point, I thought the best film of the night was Little Horses. Skillfully directed by Levi Abrino, this movie has a ton of heart.
Here is an excerpt:
Tactic 4: Okay… Make Drama If It’s Good
While my review of Levi’s short film is slightly biased (I have been a fan of Levi’s work for years), the audience’s laughter was evidence that Levi’s movie offered a nice break from all the drama. Go, Levi!
Keep in mind that your short film will probably end up on YouTube. So if you can be funny and get Internet viewers to share your movie with other people who will then share your film with other people, you will have achieved a great thing.
In addition to all the points mentioned thus far – Your audience is your business. Growing your audience is up to you. And the process starts with making a short film, getting your movie online, and exposing your work to the world.
Tactic 5: Make Shorts Until You’re Bored
After making a few short films, you may find yourself getting bored. And this is a good sign because it shows you’re growing. When this happens, begin to develop more complex short film ideas and then write a well-crafted screenplay.
If you have not yet made a short movie, write one or two-page scripts and then produce your story on a borrowed camcorder. Then edit the footage on a friend’s computer. From there, you can upload it to YouTube, test audience reaction, Learn from it, then make another film!
Once you feel confident with short storytelling, move on to bigger and bigger projects. Keep pushing yourself. Keep refining and learning! The short movie marathon exercise described above will give you a fundamental understanding of shooting scenes for minimal cost and making them enjoyable.
What Makes A Good Short Film?
An excellent short film tells a compelling story, leaving the audience wanting more. When you upload your work for the world to watch, audience feedback will reveal areas needing improvement.
Making an excellent short film will help you gain endurance, experience, and confidence to make movies more efficiently. And even though you’re working with non-professional equipment and talent, if you can learn to make an excellent short film with a small camera, you can make a good feature film with a big camera.
Or think of it like this… If you make one or two three-minute movies every weekend for six months, you will have the equivalent experience making a feature. And if you need some additional help, these short film ideas will help you.